National language

A national language is a language (or language variant, e.g. dialect) that has some connection—de facto or de jure—with people and the territory they occupy. There is little consistency in the use of this term. One or more languages spoken as first languages in the territory of a country may be referred to informally or designated in legislation as national languages of the country. National or official languages are mentioned in over 150 world constitutions.[1]

C.M.B. Brann, with particular reference to India, suggests that there are "four quite distinctive meanings" for national language in a polity:[2]

  • "Territorial language" (chthonolect, sometimes known as chtonolect[3]) of a particular people
  • "Regional language" (choralect)
  • "Language-in-common or community language" (demolect) used throughout a country
  • "Central language" (politolect) used by government and perhaps having a symbolic value.

The last is usually given the title of official language.

Standard languages, such as Standard German, Standard French, and Standard Spanish, may serve as national (language-in-common), regional, and international languages.

Official versus national languages

"National language" and "official language" are best understood as two concepts or legal categories with ranges of meaning that may coincide, or may be intentionally separate. Stateless nations are not in the position to legislate an official language, but their languages may be sufficiently distinct and well-preserved to be national languages. Some languages may be recognized popularly as "national languages," while others may enjoy official recognition in use or promotion.

In many African countries, some or all indigenous African languages are officially used, promoted, or expressly allowed to be promoted (usually taught in schools and written in important publications) as semi-official languages whether by long-term legislation or short-term, case-by-case executive (government) measures. To be official, spoken and written languages may enjoy government or federalised use, major tax-funded promotion or at least full tolerance as to their teaching and employers' recognition in public education, standing on equal footing with the official language(s). Further, they may enjoy recognition as a language used in compulsory schooling and treasury money may be spent to teach or encourage adults in learning a language which is a minority language in a particular area to restore its understanding and spread its moral stories, rhymes, poems, phrases, songs, and other literary heritage which will promote social cohesion (where other languages remain) or will promote nationalist differentiation where another, non-indigenous language is deprecated.[4][5]

National languages


Albanian is the national language in Albania and Kosovo and a regional national language for parts of Macedonia,southern Montenegro and Serbia.


Arabic is the national language in Algeria.[6] Berber is also an official language. French has no official status but is widely used in education, business and the media.


Andorra's national language is Catalan; moreover Catalan is an official language in several territories in Spain (Catalonia, Valencian Community, Balearic Islands), and is spoken (without official recognition or status) in territories in Spain (the Catalan-Aragonese borderlands known as La Franja and the Murcian municipality of El Carche), France (Pyrénées Orientales) and in Italy (Alghero).


Armenia's national language is a separate branch in the linguistic family of Indo-European languages, Armenian. Armenian is widely spoken in Armenia as well as in its diaspora. The Armenian spoken in Armenia is known as Eastern Armenian, and this dialect is spoken as well, in the Armenian communities of Russia and Iran. While on the other hand, other Armenian communities such as the Armenian communities of Lebanon, Syria, Jerusalem etc. speak the Western Armenian dialect. |°


Azerbaijani language is the national language in Azerbaijan.


Australia has no official language, but is largely monolingual with English being the de facto national language. A considerable proportion of first and second generation migrants are bilingual. According to Ethnologue, 81% of people spoke English at home, including L2 speakers. Other languages spoken at home included Chinese 2.9%, Italian 1.2%, Arabic 1.1%, Greek 1%, Vietnamese 0.9% and Spanish 0.4%.[7]

There were almost 400 languages spoken by Indigenous Australians prior to the arrival of Europeans. Only about 70 of these languages have survived and all but 30 of these are now endangered.


Bengali (or Bangla) is the sole official language of Bangladesh.


Bulgarian is the national language in Bulgaria.


Canada's official languages since the Official Languages Act of 1969 are English (Canadian English) and French (Canadian French). Depending on one's views of what constitutes a "nation", these two languages may be considered two equal national languages of the nation of Canada, or the national languages of two nations within one state, English Canada and French Canada.

Quebec nationalists consider Quebec French the language of the Quebec nation.

Two of Canada's northern territories legislate a variety of Indigenous languages. Nunavut holds Inuktitut and Inuinnaqtun as official languages, and Northwest Territories has nine official languages aside from English and French: Cree, Dënesųłiné, Gwich’in, Inuinnaqtun, Inuktitut, Inuvialuktun, North and South Slavey and Tłı̨chǫ. As these official languages are legislated at a territorial (sub-federal) level, they can be construed as national languages.

Besides these there many Indigenous languages of Canada which are the national languages of one or more of Canada's First Nations groups, Inuit and Métis (mixed First Nations-European peoples); a number of First Nations legislate at the Indigenous government levels their language as an official language of the Nation, such is the case with the Nisg̱a’a language in Nisg̱a’a. Notably the Cree language is spoken (with variations) from Alberta to Labrador, Anishinaabemowin is spoken across central Canada and Inuktitut is spoken across the arctic.


There are many languages spoken across China, with most people speaking one of several varieties of Chinese. During successive imperial dynasties, the spoken language of the capital city served as the official spoken language and was used across the country by government officials who traveled to communicate with one another. Dialects used for this purpose in different eras included those of Xi'an, Luoyang, Nanjing, Beijing, and other historical capital cities.

After the Xinhai Revolution in 1911, the Kuomintang (Chinese nationalists) founded the Republic of China. In order to promote a sense of national unity and enhance the efficiency of communications within the nation, the government decided to designate a national language. The Beijing dialect of Mandarin and Guangzhou dialect of Cantonese were each proposed as the basis for a national language for China. In the beginning, there were attempts to introduce elements from other Chinese varieties into the national language in addition to those from the Beijing dialect; this was reflected in the first official dictionary of the national language, given the name 國語 (Pinyin: Guóyǔ, literally "national language"). But this artificial language had no native speakers and was difficult to learn, so it was abandoned in 1924. Ultimately, the Beijing dialect was chosen as the national language and it continued to be referred to as 國語 in Chinese in the Republic of China. Since then, the Beijing dialect has become the main standard for pronunciation, due to its prestigious status during the preceding Qing Dynasty.

Still, elements from other dialects do exist in the standard language, which is now defined as reflecting the pronunciation of Beijing, the grammatical patterns of Mandarin dialects spoken in the northern parts of China, and the vocabulary of modern vernacular Chinese literature. The People's Republic of China renamed the national language 普通话 (Pinyin: Pǔtōnghuà, literally "common speech"), without otherwise changing the definition of the standard national language.[8]


Finland has two national languages: namely the Finnish language and the Swedish language. The Constitution of Finland guarantees the right to use Finnish and Swedish in courts and other state institutions.[9][10] Despite the large difference in the numbers of users, Swedish is not officially classified as a minority language but equal to Finnish. Both national languages are compulsory subjects in school (except for children with a third language as mother tongue) and a language test is a prerequisite for governmental offices where a university degree is required. The constitution also grants the Sami and the Roma peoples the right to maintain and develop their languages: The Sami have partial right to use Sami languages in official situations according to other laws.[11]


The official and national language of Germany is Standard German, with over 95% of the country speaking Standard German or German dialects as their first language.[12]


Haiti's official languages are Haitian Creole and French. While French is the language used in the media, government and education, 90–95% of the country speak Haitian Creole as the home language while French is learned in school.


There is no national language of India as declared by the Constitution of India.[13][14] English and Hindi are used for official purposes by the union government and in the parliament.[15] Additionally, 22 official languages are accorded official status as mentioned in article 343/1 of the Indian constitution; all these languages carry equal official status and government documents can be in any of them.[16] States of India are free to adopt one or more local languages for official purposes of that state.[14][16]


The official language of Indonesia is Indonesian. Indonesia has more than 700 living languages, making it the second most linguistically diverse country after Papua New Guinea. These 700+ languages, however, are without official status, and some are in danger of extinction. The largest local language is Javanese.


Persian (or Farsi) is recognised as the national language of Iran.[17]


Irish is recognised by the Constitution of Ireland as the national language and first official language of Ireland, and the English language is recognised as a second official language.[18]


Hebrew and Arabic are the official languages of the State of Israel, with Hebrew being the primary language used.


The Italian language is the de jure and de facto official language of Italy.[19][20] Italian is also referred to as national language for historical and cultural reasons, because since the 15th century, Italian became the language used in the courts of nearly every state in Italy and in general among educated Italians (scholars, writers, poets, philosophers, scientists, composers and artists) who contributed to what is nowadays the culture of Italy.[21] Furthermore, Italian was often an official language of the various Italian states before unification, slowly replacing Latin, even when ruled by foreign powers (such as the Spaniards in the Kingdom of Naples, or the Austrians in the Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia).[22]


While English and Swahili are official languages, Swahili also has a special status as national language. None of the country's biggest languages (Gikuyu, Luo, Kamba, Kalenjin, etc.) have any explicit legal status on the national level, however the 2010 constitution enjoins the state to "promote and protect the diversity of language of the people of Kenya."[23]


In Lebanon, the Arabic language is the "official national" language.[24] Modern Standard Arabic is used for official purposes, while the everyday spoken language is Lebanese Arabic. French and English are also widespread in Lebanon.


Luxembourg uses three official languages: Luxembourgish, French, and German. Previously Luxembourgish had no official status, but following a constitutional revision a law was passed on February 24, 1984 making Luxembourgish the national language. Furthermore, this law recognised the three languages of Luxembourg (Luxembourgish, French and German) as administrative languages.


The Maltese language is the national language of Malta. It is also the official language of the island, together with English. Maltese only is recognised as "national" in Chapter 1 of the Laws of Malta.


Although English is the only nationwide official language in Namibia, there are also 20 National languages, which are each spoken by more or less sizeable portions of the population and are considered Namibia's cultural heritage. All national languages have the rights of a minority language and may even serve as a lingua franca in certain regions. Among Namibia's national languages are German, Afrikaans, Oshiwambo, Otjiherero, Portuguese, as well as the languages of the Himba, Nama, San, Kavango and Damara.


Nepali is the official language of Nepal. Over 123 languages are spoken in Nepal. Some of the language spoken in Nepal are Newari, Hindi, Tamang, Sherpa, Rai, Magar, Gurung, Maithili, Purbeli, English, Limbu, Mongolian, etc.

New Zealand

While the population of New Zealand is predominantly English-speaking, the language of the indigenous Polynesian people is Te Reo Māori. Both of these have official status in the country, along with New Zealand Sign Language, which is one of the few sign languages in the world to have such status.


Besides official English (Nigerian Standard English), Nigeria recognizes three 'majority', or national, languages. These are Hausa, Igbo, and Yoruba, each with some 20 million speakers or more.[25]


Article 251(1) of the 1973 Constitution of Pakistan, titled National language, specifies: "The National language of Pakistan is Urdu, and arrangements shall be made for its being used for official and other purposes within fifteen years from the commencing day." Although Urdu has been declared an official language, so far all government documents, legislation, legal orders, and other official records are written in Pakistani English. Most higher education instruction is in English."[26] The National Language Authority is an organization established to make arrangements to promote Urdu since 1979.


The 1973 Philippine constitution hegemonically imposed Tagalog national language at the expense of all other ethnic nationalities in the country and mandated development and formal adoption of a common national language to be known as Filipino. English (Philippine English) was also designated as an official language, "until otherwise provided by law".[27]

The 1987 constitution designated the Filipino language, which is based on Tagalog with the inclusion of terms from all recognized languages of the Philippines, as the national language. It also designated both Filipino and English as the official languages for purposes of communication and instruction, and designated the regional languages as auxiliary official languages in the regions to serve as auxiliary media of instruction therein.

More than 170 languages are spoken in the Philippines and almost all of them belong to the Borneo–Philippines languages group of the Austronesian language family. In 2007, a six-part series titled The Case of Ilokano as a National Language authored by Dr. Aurelio Solver Agcaoili of the University of Hawaii appeared in the Culture, Essays, Lifestyle of Tawid News Magazine.[28] In September 2012, La Union became the first province in Philippine history to pass an ordinance proclaiming a local language and a vernacular, Ilokano, as an official language. This move aims to protect and revitalize the use of Ilokano in various government and civil affairs within the province.[29]


Article 27 of the Constitution states: "Polish shall be the official language in the Republic of Poland".[30]


The official and national language of Romania is the Romanian language.


The Russian language is the only official language of Russia, but 27 other languages are considered official in different regions of Russia.


The Serbian language is the national language of Serbia, written in the Cyrillic script. There are 15 minority languages.


Singapore has four official languages: English (Singapore English), Chinese, Malay and Tamil. Although English is the primary language of business, government, and education, Malay is designated as the national language. This is due to the geographical and historical ties to Malaysia as well as the recognition of ethnic Malays (about 14% of the population) as the indigenous people of Singapore.

Traditionally, the lingua franca among the different ethnic groups in Singapore was Bazaar Malay, a Malay-based creole. Since independence, the government has been promoting English as the main language of Singapore. The bilingual education policy requires students to study two languages: English and a "mother tongue" corresponding to the student's ethnicity. Malay is only offered to non-Malay students as an optional third language in secondary schools. As a result, English has displaced Bazaar Malay as the common language among Singaporeans. Therefore, despite the status of Malay as the national language, the majority doesn't speak it.


The Slovene language is the national language of Slovenia. There are 6 minority languages.

South Africa

South Africa has 11 official languages, namely Afrikaans, English, Ndebele, Northern Sotho, Sotho, Swazi, Tswana, Tsonga, Venda, Xhosa and Zulu. South African Sign Language and Dutch are distinct in South Africa though incompletely emerged national standard languages which also subsumes a cluster of semi-standardised dialects.

The above mentioned languages can be considered as minority Lingua francas — none of these languages are of Official Language Status in the country.


Spain has one national constitutional language, Spanish, but there are four other languages that are co-official in some territories: Galician language in Galicia, Basque in Euskadi and part of Navarre, Catalan language in Cataluña, Balearic Islands and Valencia (as Valencian), and Aranese dialect in Val d'Aran.


Switzerland has four national languages: German, French, Italian and Romansh,[31] all of which have official status at the national level within the Federal administration of Switzerland.[32]

A majority (74%) of the population speaks German, while most of the remainder (21%) speak French, and minorities speak Italian (4%) and Romansh (1%, not monolingually). German speakers are predominant in most of the country, while French speakers occupy the western parts near the border with France, and the Italian speakers are situated to the south near the border with Italy, mostly within the Canton of Ticino. The Romansh speakers are concentrated in the Canton of Grisons in the south-east.[33]


During Japanese rule (1895 to 1945), the "national language movement" (國語運動, kokugo undō) promoted the Japanese language. After their defeat in the Chinese Civil War in 1949, the Kuomintang regime of the Republic of China retreated to the island of Taiwan, where they introduced Standard Chinese, which was spoken by few of the island population at the time, as the new "national language".

In 2017, the Indigenous languages[34] and Taiwanese Hakka[35] were recognized as national languages.


The official language of the Tunisian state is Arabic.[36] However, that language is not the mother tongue of the population or used to communicate between Tunisian people, instead Tunisian Arabic plays these roles and is the national language of Tunisia.[37] Also, even without an official status, French is also used extensively in its written and spoken form in the administration, education and business environment and known by 63.6% of the population.[38] Also Berber minorities in the south-west and on Djerba Island use the Tunisian Chelha language to communicate between themselves.


Turkish is the national language of Turkey per the Turkish constitution.

United Kingdom

The English language (British English) is the de facto official language of the United Kingdom and is the sole language of an estimated 95% of the British population. The three Home Nations outside England have national languages of their own with varying degrees of recognition, which coexist with the dominant English language. Britain also has several Crown dependencies and Overseas Territories which are to some extent self-governing, but which are not recognized as independent states. Many of these have their own regional languages.

Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland, both the Gaelic Irish language and the West Germanic Ulster Scots dialects are recognized by the Good Friday Agreement as "part of the cultural wealth of the island of Ireland" and are promoted by the Foras na Gaeilge (Irish Institute) and Tha Boord o Ulstèr-Scotch (the Ulster-Scots Agency) respectively.


In Scotland, Scottish Gaelic is a minority language spoken by 57,375 people (1.1% of the Scottish population aged over three years old).[39] The Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act 2005 gives the language a limited official status, and the Bòrd na Gàidhlig is tasked with "securing the status of the Gaelic language as an official language of Scotland commanding equal respect to the English language".[40] Scots, generally treated as a West Germanic language related to but separate from English, has no official status but is recognized as a minority language, and is the language of much Scottish literature, including the poetry of Robert Burns.


The Welsh language has official status within Wales, and as of the 2011 census, is spoken by 562,000 people, or 19% of the population.[41] The Welsh Language Board (Bwrdd yr Iaith Gymraeg) is legally tasked with ensuring that, "in the conduct of public business and the administration of justice, the English and Welsh languages should be treated on a basis of equality".[42]

Crown dependencies: Isle of Man

English is de facto the only official language. However a few words of Manx Gaelic (the historical national language) are sometimes encountered in Government institutions, largely for symbolic and ceremonial purposes, and it is the main medium of instruction in one primary school.


The national language of Uganda is English


Ukrainian is the only official language of Ukraine, but Russian is also widely spoken all over the country especially in the regions to the east of Dnieper.

United States

In the United States, English (American English) is the national language only in an informal sense, by numbers and by historical and contemporary association. The United States Constitution does not explicitly declare any official language, although the constitution is written in English, as is all federal legislation.

On February 13, 2015, Representative Peter T. King introduced H.R.997, the English Language Unity Act of 2015, in the United States House of Representatives. This bill would establish English as the official language of the United States. A companion bill, S.678, was introduced by Senator Jim Inhofe in the United States Senate on March 9, 2015. Both bills were referred to committee. Similar legislation has been introduced every year since 1973.[43]


In Vietnam, the Vietnamese language had been the de facto national language for many years, but it was not until Decree No. 5 of the 2013 constitution that the Vietnamese language was officially described as the National Language.[44]

See also

Notes and references

  1. Jacques Leclerc, L'aménagement linguistique dans le monde, CEFAN, Université Laval
  2. Brann, C.M.B. 1994. "The National Language Question: Concepts and Terminology." Logos [University of Namibia, Windhoek] Vol 14: 125–134
  3. Wolff, H. Ekkehard "African Languages: An Introduction Ch./Art: Language and Society p. 321 pub. Cambridge University Press 2000
  4. 20 Year Strategy for the Irish Language
  5. Williams, Colin H. (1990), "The Anglicisation of Wales", in Coupland, Nikolas, English in Wales: Diversity, Conflict, and Change, Clevedon, Avon: Multilingual Matters, pp. 38–41
  6. The Report: Algeria 2008. Oxford Business Group. 2008. p. 10. ISBN 978-1-902339-09-2.
  8. General Information of the People's Republic of China (PRC): Languages,, retrieved 2008-04-17
  9. Finland – Constitution, Section 17. International Constitutional Law website.
  10. "FINLEX ® – Ajantasainen lainsäädäntö: 11.6.1999/731".
  11. Decree on the Sami Parliament FINLEX. Access date: 3 July.
  12. "BBC Education".
  13. "Hindi, not a national language: Court". The Hindu. 25 January 2010.
  14. 1 2 "There's no national language in India: Gujarat High Court". The Times of India. 25 January 2010.
  15. "The Official Languages Act, 1963". Department of Official Language, Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India. Retrieved 2018-02-26.
  16. 1 2 "The Constitution of India" (PDF). National Portal of India. 26 November 1949.
  17. "Persian". UCLA Language Materials Project. Retrieved 19 February 2018.
  18. Article 8, Bunreacht na hÉireann.
  19. Law 482, December 15, 1999.
  20. Italian language.
  21. Lingua nazionale: le ragioni del fiorentino.
  22. Bruno Migliorini, (1960). Storia della lingua italiana. 1st ed. Italy: Sansoni.
  23. Constitution of Kenya Accessed 2010-10-28.
  24. "ICL - Lebanon - Constitution". 21 September 1990.
  25. Article 55, Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria : 1999.
  26. "PART XII (contd); Miscellaneous; Chapter 4. General", The Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, 14 August 1973, retrieved 2008-04-22
  27. "1973 Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines". Article XV, Section 3.
  28. Aurelio Solver Agcaoili, The Case of Ilokano as a National Language; Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 (May 2007), Tawid News Magasin
  29. Elias, Jun (September 19, 2012). "Iloko La Union's official language". Philippine Star. Retrieved September 24, 2012.
  30. Constitution of the Republic of Poland, 2 April 1997, retrieved 2016-07-16
  31. "The Federal Constitution of the Swiss Confederation, article 4". Retrieved 2009-04-30.
  32. "Diversité des langues et compétences linguistiques en Suisse". Retrieved 2009-04-30.
  33. Jud, Markus G. "Switzerland's Four National Languages". Retrieved 2018-03-03.
  34. "Indigenous Languages Development Act". Laws & Regulations Database of The Republic of China. Retrieved 23 August 2018.
  35. "Hakka Basic Act". Laws & Regulations Database of The Republic of China. Retrieved 23 August 2018.
  36. "Tunisia Constitution, Article 1" (PDF). 2014-01-26. Archived from the original (PDF) on 9 February 2014. Retrieved 10 February 2014. Translation by the University of Bern: "Tunisia is a free State, independent and sovereign; its religion is the Islam, its language is Arabic, and its form is the Republic."
  37. "Arabic, Tunisian Spoken". Ethnologue.
  38. (in French) "Christian Valantin (sous la dir. de), La Francophonie dans le monde. 2006-2007, éd. Nathan, Paris, 2007, p. 16" (PDF). (5.58 MB)
  39. 2011 Census of Scotland, Table QS211SC. Viewed 30 May 2014.
  40. Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act 2005, Office of Public Sector Information, archived from the original on 7 September 2010, retrieved 9 March 2007
  41. "2011 Census: Key Statistics for Wales, March 2011". ONS. Retrieved 12 December 2012.
  42. Welsh Language Act 1993, Office of Public Sector Information, retrieved 3 September 2007
  43. "All legislation matching 'H.R.997'". United States Congress. Retrieved December 21, 2015.
  44. "Toàn văn Hiến pháp sửa đổi". Tin nhanh VnExpress.
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